For the seventh year, the Air Force Academy will host its Science, Technology, Engineering and Technology Bootcamp July 19-21 to provide Front Range educators lessons and resources to implement in the classroom and their motivate students.
This year, 110 K-12 teachers from every school district in the Pikes Peak region, across Colorado and out-of-state will receive hands-on STEM training from Academy faculty and Challenger Learning Center of Colorado staff to advance their STEM teaching skills and further engage students to study STEM. The event starts Tuesday and continues through Thursday.
The professional development program is funded by the National Defense Education Program (DoD STEM) and the Challenger Learning Center of Colorado partners with the Academy each year to provide the camp.
“This year’s focus will be on robotics and coding,” said John Van Winkle, the Academy’s deputy chief of media relations. “We will also be building and launching 50 Estes rockets and 10 two-stage rockets as part of the camp.”
The camp is an investment in America, empowering teachers and students who are “our future in business, science, medicine, technology and industry,” Van Winkle said.
“It helps the Air Force Academy engage further with the community and give back to schools,” he said. “It’s a high-level teacher development camp taught by faculty of one of the nation’s leading undergraduate educational institutions.”
Last year, 105 teachers attended, representing the Front Range, Texas, Kansas and Arizona, according to the Challenger Learning Center of Colorado’s website.
“The interest and attendance shows us that we’re on the right track each year,” Van Winkle said. “We have a few teachers who have attended every year and the interest in attending has grown with each coming year.
The goal is to train teachers to be more comfortable with science curricula, says Rob Fredell, executive director of the Challenger Learning Center.
“I think everybody understands that some teachers — especially elementary school teachers — can be uncomfortable with hands-on science like robotics and rocketry,” he said. “Our goal is to help develop STEM teachers to improve the quality of our high school graduates so they are better able to work in the industries that we want to grow in Colorado.”
The nonprofit’s goal is to use space-related, project-based learning to improve STEM education, he said.
“We really focus on the teachers, even when kids come to fly a mission with us — and we have avery hands-on approach,” Fredell said. “But we focus on training the teachers so the kids can fly a better mission. Good education starts with great teacher training. Our goal is to make our learning experience more than just a museum experience. I always say: ‘handson, minds on.'”
The Challenger Learning Center concept grew from the tragedy of the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle in 1986, which exploded after launch, killing all the crew members. Their families started the nonprofit to serve as a teacher-training and education tool to encourage students to choose space-based careers. In Colorado Springs, Challenger provides hands-on training missions — including simulated flights to a comet and to Mars — that teach teamwork to adults and children alike.
(Amy Gillentine Sweet contributed to this story.)